By LARRY NEUMEISTER and TOM HAYS
NEW YORK (AP) — A judge sentenced a Bangladeshi immigrant to life in prison Thursday, saying he plotted to carry out a “barbaric and heinous” plot to kill as many people as he could with a suicide bombing attack in New York City’s subway beneath Times Square in 2017.
Akayed Ullah, 31, was sentenced in Manhattan federal court by Judge Richard J. Sullivan, who said Ullah had carried out “about as serious a crime as there is,” though he largely failed when the bomb attached to his chest barely exploded, burning him severely but largely sparing those around him from severe injuries.
“A life sentence is appropriate,” Sullivan said. “It was a truly barbaric and heinous crime.”
The judge told the would-be suicide bomber that life in prison was “less draconian than the sentence you were going to impose on yourself.”
Ullah, 31, speaking through a white mask over his black beard and with his tearful mother looking on from a courtroom bench behind him, apologized before hearing the sentence.
“Your honor, what I did on Dec. 11, it was wrong,” he said. “I can tell you from the bottom of my heart, I’m deeply sorry. … I do not support harming innocent people.”
Prosecutors had sought the life term for Ullah, saying the “premeditated and vicious” attack was committed on behalf of the Islamic State group.
But defense lawyer Amy Gallicchio said Ullah deserved no more than the mandatory 35 years in prison. She said he had “lived lawfully and peacefully” before the December 2017 attack that she blamed on a “personal crisis that left him isolated, depressed, vulnerable and suicidal.”
“He’s not an evil man. He is not a monster,” she said.
The attack in a pedestrian tunnel beneath Times Square and the Port Authority bus terminal left Ullah seriously burned but spared some pedestrians nearby from more serious injuries, though the government noted that one bystander has lost 70% of his hearing.
At trial, prosecutors showed jurors Ullah’s post-arrest statements and social media comments, including when he taunted then-President Donald Trump on Facebook before the attack.
Hours after Ullah’s bombing attempt, Trump derided the immigration system that had allowed Ullah — and multitudes of law-abiding Bangladeshis — to enter the U.S.
Ullah got an entry visa in 2011 because he had an uncle who was already a U.S. citizen. Trump said allowing foreigners to follow relatives to the U.S. was “incompatible with national security.”
Sullivan’s sentence was formally described as life in prison plus 30 years because one count required that a 30-year mandatory sentence be added to whatever was imposed for the other charges. The judge, who now sits on the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also ordered $7,380 in restitution.